I’m a sucker for romance. While I don’t read straight romances, my favorite reads tend to include a satisfying love story along with great writing, smooth storytelling, and—a crucial element for me—endearing characters of depth and complexity. At the top of my list is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, started with a great love story (Cordelia and Aral Vorkosigan) and then took a leisurely arc of seven or eight books and more than a decade in fictional time to find Miles the perfect mate. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series are on the list: complex historicals brimming with excitement and a touch of magic, both with extraordinarily charismatic heroes who find (immediately or eventually) a larger-than-life Big Love. In the Dunnett books, the ultimate heroine is only ten years old when she and the hero first meet. In mysteries, I’m particularly fond of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne and Margaret Maron’s Judge Deborah Knott and Dwight Bryant (both brilliant examples of the traditional amateur sleuth with a law enforcement partner). In the first case, it’s love at first sight and obstacles to overcome in book after book. In the other, Maron herself has said when she started the series, she had no idea that Deborah and Dwight would fall in love.
In the past, I’ve said that it’s ironic that though I love romantic stories, I didn’t write one. Now, reviewing my literary role models, I can see that I was instinctively falling into the pattern of allowing the protagonist’s love story to unfold slowly over the course of a series arc. In the case of my protagonist, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, it was not a matter of building the tension, peak after peak, in one evolving relationship, as Julia Spencer-Fleming does so brilliantly. Rather, like Miles Vorkosigan (if I dare to mention my own work and the dazzling Bujold’s in the same breath), Bruce has a lot of growing up to do before he can choose the right mate.
The theme of my mystery series, recovery from alcoholism, codependency, and other addictions and compulsions, gave Bruce some very good reasons not to have a girlfriend. The first book, Death Will Get You Sober, started with Bruce hitting bottom in a detox on the Bowery.
The secondary theme and subplot of the series, Bruce’s friendship with his two sleuthing sidekicks, his best friend Jimmy and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara, also supported Bruce’s lack of a love interest in the first book. Bruce has deeply disappointed Jimmy and Barbara, and a big part of his motivation for staying sober and solving the murders is to give the friendship a second chance. There’s a lot of love in this triumvirate, and some readers noticed a teeny bit of sexual tension between Bruce and Barbara, though it was essential to the story I wanted to tell that this would be resolved harmlessly at the end of the first book.
Bruce actually had a girlfriend in the manuscript I intended to be the second book of the series, which was rejected by my publisher at the time. Bruce is still fairly new in sobriety. Jimmy and Barbara are taking a weekend couples workshop, and Bruce tags along. The obnoxious relationship guru is murdered, and Bruce promptly falls for his widow. But this relationship has nowhere to go, and it’s apparent throughout the story.
In the new book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, Bruce and his friends take shares in a clean and sober group house in the Hamptons.